From 2015 to 2018 I preached a series of messages on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. This messaged was preached in 2018. Article 21: Christian Stewardship.
Article 21 talks about being stewards, or managers, of God’s property. In our congregation, we have a committee called the Stewardship Committee. It’s purpose is to manage money on behalf of the congregation, but stewardship in our confession of faith isn’t only about money. When we talk about stewardship, or managing God’s property we are talking about our money, our property, our time, our talents and most of all, the Gospel Message that Jesus entrusted us to share with the world.
Servants in God’s household
The Israelites were forced into oppressive slavery, by the Egyptians. God purchased their freedom to make them servants in his household.
We might think that God’s property is only the money that we give to the church or the time we donate to the church or the property that we offer for church use, but it’s actually everything. My desktop computer that I use for computer programming work, the money I spend on ice cream, the time I use to watch YouTube, all this belongs to God too. When I said yes to following Jesus, I acknowledge that: (1) I was never truly free, I was a slave to sin but now I am a servant of God in his household and (2) I have been given the responsibility of managing a portion of God’s Kingdom.
Confession: We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls us as the church to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. As servants of God, our primary vocation is to be stewards in God’s household. God, who in Christ has given us new life, has also given us spiritual gifts to use for the church’s nurture and mission. The message of reconciliation has been entrusted to every believer, so that through the church the mystery of the gospel might be made known to the world.
Confession: We acknowledge that God as Creator is owner of all things. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year were practical expressions of the belief that the land is God’s and the people of Israel belong to God. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, announced the year of the Lord’s favor, often identified with Jubilee. Through Jesus, the poor heard good news, captives were released, the blind saw, and the oppressed went free. The first church in Jerusalem put Jubilee into practice by preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and sharing possessions. Other early churches shared financially with those in need.
Our confession highlights this idea that we are servants in God’s household. God has given us each a bit of his property to manage on his behalf. It’s a theme that runs from beginning to end in scripture. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are made in the image of God and blessed and told to fill the earth and subdue it. In essence, God is saying, we are made to be like him so we can effectively manage the entire earth on his behalf.
The theme is again emphasized when God saves the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In the Exodus story, God redeems, or purchases the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This purchase makes the Israelites his servants and God brings them to his land to inherit it and become it’s managers, or stewards, on his behalf.
“ ‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.'” 42Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 55for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.Leviticus 25:23, 42, 55 NIV
The picture that God gives is clear: The Israelites are Not Free to do as they please on his property. It becomes clear why God denied the Israelites the ability to enslave a fellow Israelite. Taking another Israelite as slave is like taking one of God’s servants away, or stealing a servant from God. The year of jubilee, where everyone had to return any land they purchased from fellow Israelites to their original owner, wasn’t necessarily about social justice or equality, but more about the fact that they all belonged to God’s household and God wanted all his servants to be busy managing his stuff. The Israelites were being prevented from building up their own individual households at the expense of God’s household.
The theme continues in the Gospels. At one point, Jesus asks: Who is my mother, my brother and my sister? Whoever does the will of God is my family. It isn’t about genetics, it’s about servant hood.
(Mark 10:45) Normally, being a servant is an unrewarding job since it means doing all the work while the master gets all the gain, but Jesus, who is our Master, says that he has come not to be served, but to serve. The point is this: The more we act and treat what we have as a servant in God’s household, the more we belong to God’s Kingdom. The more I believe that what I have belongs to me, the less I belong to God’s Kingdom.
Making the most of Time
There are two extremes when it comes to work: Those who work all the time and those who rarely work. Both are unhealthy, but we tend to celebrate those who work too much despite the fact that it is wrong. I do realize that farming, like other types of work, have seasons of heavy work, but they should also be followed by seasons of more rest.
Confession: We believe that time also belongs to God and that we are to use with care the time of which we are stewards. Yet, from earliest days, the people of God have been called to observe special periods of rest and worship. In the Old Testament, the seventh day was holy because it was the day God rested from the work of creation. The Sabbath was also holy because of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery. Through Jesus, all time is holy, set apart for God and intended to be used for salvation, healing, and justice. In the present time, the church celebrates a day of holy rest, commonly the first day of the week, and is called to live according to Sabbath justice at all times.
Worship in scripture encompassed a range of activities from solemn prayer to festivals, which probably included dancing. Food and socializing were regular mandated activities. The goal in our lives is to develop healthy rhythms of work and rest. And within the times of rest, to spend time with one another, enjoying each other’s company. Husbands and wives need time together. Families need time together. It’s when we are together during times of rest that we validate the value we have as children of God.
In our church work, we also need to be careful how we steward our ministry time. How much time is spent in Worship, how much socializing with one another, how much in business meetings and how much time do we spend fulfilling the great commission.
I have observed that as a church family, it is easier to account for the time we spend in worship together and socializing together, but it isn’t obvious how we’ve been stewards of the Gospel message together. It does make me anxious because faithfulness to the great commission is one of the key areas that Jesus asks us to trust and follow him. Are we managing the time we have allotted well? How do we know?
The guilt of too much, the fear of too little
In Indian cities, like in this picture, you will often find large slums next to rich developments. The rich and desperately poor were often very close to each other.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.Philippians 4:11-12 NIV
Paul had learned the secret, but I haven’t. I feel guilt in having more than I need and yet I am afraid that one day I will have too little. Our culture causes us to seek self sufficiency more than God’s Kingdom, it’s a philosophy ingrained in our families and I have inherited this thinking: to not to be a burden to others. Self sufficiency is not a message taught by Jesus.
Jesus was not wealthy in worldly terms and it got him into tight situations, like paying the temple tax (Matthew 17). It is important to know that some of the families of Jesus’ disciples were wealthy and Jesus relied on their help. Most of Jesus’ teachings regarding wealth were warnings about making God’s Kingdom second in priority.
Confession: As stewards of God’s earth, we are called to care for the earth and to bring rest and renewal to the land and everything that lives on it. As stewards of money and possessions, we are to live simply, practice mutual aid within the church, uphold economic justice, and give generously and cheerfully. As persons dependent on God’s providence, we are not to be anxious about the necessities of life, but to seek first the kingdom of God. We cannot be true servants of God and let our lives be ruled by desire for wealth.
Confession: We are called to be stewards in the household of God, set apart for the service of God. We live out now the rest and justice which God has promised. The church does this while looking forward to the coming of our Master and the restoration of all things in the new heaven and new earth.
Christian Stewardship centers around our identity as servants in God’s household who are managing a portion of God’s Kingdom on his behalf. It’s not about having too much or too little, but managing what we have been entrusted with faithfully. Ideally, no one in the world should have too much and no one should have too little.
Jesus shows us that the most important thing that we manage in God’s Kingdom is the Gospel message. Stewardship isn’t so much about giving our money away to good causes as much as it is about inviting the lost children back into God’s family.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
When we talk about stewardship, we mostly think of giving money. For example, if a homeless person comes up to you while you are shopping and asks you for money, how do you respond? Do you say “yes” or “no”? Do you ignore them? Or do you start a conversation with them? If we say “yes” are we letting them take advantage of us? If we say “no” are we telling them that they are unworthy of charity? What is the best way to respond?
Stewardship also includes the work we do for a living. Not all jobs are equal. For example, I decided while at University to avoid jobs that did military projects or were related to gambling, since there were a number of job openings in these areas when I was younger. Even farming can be tricky. It used to be that many Mennonite farmers grew tobacco. It was a reliable way of making money, but when the farmers became aware of the bad effects of smoking, most stopped growing tobacco. Making choices about our work is difficult because our families’ livelihoods are at risk.
Jesus says the burden is light if we take the time to learn from him, but it doesn’t feel easy. How do we learn from each other to be better stewards?
There are 2 main ways we learn about stewardship, the first is from hearing stories and the second is from participating in the work in practical ways.
Our congregation is involved in charitable work. Our congregation’s Stewardship Committee makes some difficult decisions on how to use the money that we collect. We give to missions work, to local ministries that benefit the community and we help people who ask our church for help. Every year, the Stewardship Committee prepares and affirms a distribution of offerings so we see where our money goes. What isn’t obvious is how the decisions are made. It is my recommendation that every member should have at least one term on the Stewardship committee so that we all become more aware of the needs and choices we make as a church family.
We are often reluctant to share how we individually do charitable work like giving money spontaneously or giving our time or sharing our property because we don’t want to seem proud about doing good things, but it is important that we figure out how to teach and learn from each other so that we can be better managers of the parts of God’s Kingdom we are entrusted with. The goal here is to help each other move deeper into God’s Kingdom.
I want to share a prayer that can be found on our Offering Schedule.
Father in heaven, we pray:
That our giving is inspired by Your inexpressible gift
that we give in view of our Lord’s costly sacrifice
that we give joyfully and extravagantly
that our giving is an act of worship, giving You glory and praise
that your kingdom can grow through missions
that people in need can be blessed through relief
that our congregation through teaching, instruction and encouragement will be missional to those we meet each day
In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.